Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Colombia win did world a favour

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Uruguay's Cristian Rodriguez, left, and Colombia's Abel Aguilar go for a header during their World Cup round of 16 soccer match at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Photo / ap
Uruguay's Cristian Rodriguez, left, and Colombia's Abel Aguilar go for a header during their World Cup round of 16 soccer match at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Photo / ap

Colombia wiped away the stain of Luis Suarez in the best possible way, leaving this World Cup to reclaim its place as one of the great sporting tournaments of all time.

Colombia obliterated Uruguay in their last 16 clash, with James Rodriguez scoring via a stupendous volley on the turn that will sit nicely near Maradona's 1986 dribble through half the England team as a leading contender for the World Cup goal of goals.

Colombia have something far more serious than the Suarez biting disaster to overcome, an event that rates as the darkest and most tragic of all World Cup-related stories.

They have already done this World Cup an almighty favour, however, while also announcing themselves as contenders.

The longer Uruguay survived this football party in Brazil, the longer the Suarez disgrace would hang over an otherwise glorious tournament of flow and goals.

Appeals were in the air. Everyone turned into F. Lee Bailey, conjuring up defence cases out of very thin air. Soon, biting people would be downgraded to an act akin to stealing the referee's can of wonder white. Now Suarez has vanished, like the ref's magic spray.

The World Cup needed this, a golden moment in order to forget Suarez's atrocious teeth-first attack on the Italian Giorgio Chiellini and what came across as a ridiculous if understandably emotion-charged Uruguay reaction, a nation on furious attack to defend the indefensible.

Surely someone in Uruguay thinks that snacking on an opponent's shoulder is not acceptable, that the football world had not conspired to bring Suarez down armed with Photoshop. Uruguay should be furious with Suarez. Without him, they are an ordinary side.

Anyway, Rodriguez and Colombia did the business in style. Suarez was gone, replaced by a Cinderella story. Colombia might be the best team at the World Cup. They are complete, composed, elegant, athletic and lethal.

How did they sneak under the radar to this extent? Did anyone leap like a gazelle then kiss the carpet when they got Colombia in the office sweepstake? The dark horse predictions were so concentrated on Belgium they lost dark horse status. Chile got the odd mention.

But you looked at Colombia and went "oh, that's right, there are two Os in Colombia, not an O and a U."

Colombia is synonymous with sporting tragedy, namely the slaying of defender Andres Escobar after his own goal helped eliminate that talented team from the 1994 tournament. This team have a beautiful glow to them, one that was supposed to emanate from that highly-touted 1994 squad whose failure brought the dark and violent worlds of drug-trafficking and gambling to the surface.

Watch: FIFA World Cup Highlights: Columbia 2 Uruguay 0

The sublime Rodriguez has also appeared out of nowhere, for most of us, because he plays for Monaco in the French league. There are football aficionados who drive themselves crazy telling the rest of us there is more to life than the English Premier League. They are right in a footballing sense. But the thing about the EPL is that if your misbehaving internet connection is making all the players look like they've been eaten by Luis Suarez, you can read about it instead. A lot of us read about the EPL more than we watch it. One inherent weakness with other leagues is their refusal to take up the English language.

The World Cup survives any language barrier and the nicely undermanned TV commentaries let the pictures tell the story, unlike a few other sports we could name. The reactions from the players and supporters go beyond almost anything else in sport. The atmosphere is so real, free of league's State of Origin-type over-hype and contrivances. So far, it's been about pain and pain relief.

Neymar and David Luiz conducted a lengthy religious ceremony after Brazil's penalty shoot out win over Chile, an indication that nothing distils sport down to its sharpest point like a penalty shootout. There's no such thing as a bad one for tension and drama.

Supporters screamed at the heavens. Brazil's Big Phil Scolari, who could do with a decent tailor by World Cup managerial standards, had to lift Neymar like a rag doll from the turf. Chile players cried. If this was a rugby code, the raw emotion would be replaced by an onfield interview.

"You must be really happy with that Neymar," suggests the interviewer. "The boys are really happy with that," Neymar would reply.

Colombia play Brazil in a quarter-final that promises drama on a rare scale. Hang on for more tears and impromptu thanksgiving ceremonies.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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